Thursday, June 26, 2008

Bike Ride Mission to Israel

Arutz-7 reports on an up-coming bike ride in Israel:

From September 21-27, 2008, athletic tourists will be able to visit and tour the country in a unique style: Bicycling their way through the upper Galilee and the Golan Heights on the Jewish National Fund’s first annual Bike Ride Mission to Israel.

"Participants will traverse over 200 miles of breathtaking terrain," the JNF literature announces, "during four days of fully supported riding (all ability levels are welcome), and will be rewarded with exclusive accommodations at the 5-star Mitzpe Hayamim Hotel and Spa and The Carmel Forest Spa Resort."

The bicycle tours will include stops in towns, army bases, and JNF sites such as security bypass roads, forests, and nature reserves.  The participants will also hear talks from public officials and IDF officers, will learn about Israel's water problems and the JNF's efforts and successes in solving them, and will take part in rafting and wine-tasting activities.

The cost: $3,600 per rider (double occupancy), not including airfare. Participants can either bring their own bicycle or rent one here....

For more information on the bike mission, visit

Bicyclist on road of patriarchs, tb111106873

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Wildfire in Dead Sea nature reserve

From the Jerusalem Post:

An IDF training exercise sparked a massive wildfire at the Ein Fasha Nature Reserve Tuesday morning, destroying nearly 2000 dunams [500 acres] of land in what the chief firefighter on the scene called "the largest wildfire of the summer."

"It's by far the largest," said Amnon Amir of the Judea and Samaria Fire Department, as flames in the area were still being sprayed by airplanes overhead. "It started around four in the morning, and has been extremely difficult to put out."

According to Amir, the exceedingly dry conditions in the area, which borders the northern Dead Sea, added to the difficulty, and low amounts of rainfall over the winter were to blame. But he also told The Jerusalem Post that the IDF had initially prevented his firefighters from entering the area, making it more difficult to combat the intense flames....

"It will take 10 years before the area completely renews itself," Nissim said. "But within six months or so, we'll already see new signs of life. This isn't a completely tragedy, because it's somewhat healthy for the vegetation to renew itself like that, but still, it's been difficult to watch it all burn."

The army refused to comment further on the incident, which Army Radio reported had begun from a flash or smoke grenade. According to the Judea and Samaria fire department, there were no injuries reported, and damage was limited to the plant life in the reserve.

There have been three large wildfires throughout the country since Saturday, two in the Jerusalem Hills before Tuesday's at Ein Fasha. Firefighters blame high temperatures and dry conditions as a factor in all of the fires, but at least one, on Saturday afternoon near Kibbutz Ma'aleh Hahamisha, was reportedly the result of arson.


Dating from Magnetic Particles

This AP article is about American archaeology, but the technology could be applied to the Near East, if it hasn't been already.

You might be surprised what you can learn from a campfire. A campfire that has been cold for, say, 300 years.

Stacey Lengyel hopes she can tell, within 30 years or so, when it was used.

Lengyel, a research associate in anthropology at the Illinois State Museum, is the country's leading authority on archeomagnetic dating, a process built around two phenomena: when heated, magnetic particles reorient themselves to magnetic north; and over time, magnetic north is, literally, all over the map.

"They call it a 'drunken wander,' " said Lengyel. "Around 1600, it was real close to Earth's rotational axis. Now, it is around 75 degrees latitude...."

In archeomagnetic dating, once potential samples have been identified, their location and orientation are precisely measured, Lengyel said. About a dozen 1-inch cubes are then excised, encased to preserve them, then taken to a lab.

The chunks are then progressively demagnetized until their natural remnant magnetism can be measured, she said. The objects may have been partially magnetized by nearby lightning strikes, for example, or if they were stored near objects with strong magnetic fields. These weaker magnetic fields must be removed.

First their magnetic fingerprint is taken, and then they are slightly demagnetized. The process is repeated several times; eventually all that is left is the baseline magnetic signal, she said. If the material is fired to about 500 degrees Celsius or more, the magnetic field will point to where magnetic north was located at the time.

"The best dates we can get are within a 30-year time period," Lengyel said.

The complete article is here.

HT: Joe Lauer


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Student Finds LMLK Handle

Last month I was in Israel when a friend called and said that one of the students in a group he was leading found a jar handle with a LMLK seal impression laying on the ground at Ramat Rahel (two miles south of the Old City of Jerusalem).  I've led student groups around Israel for 15 years and none of them has ever found a LMLK handle and my friend is three days into his first trip when one is found.  Within a day or so, he had sent a photo of the seal impression to "Mr. LMLK" (who immediately published an analysis of it here) and got the expert opinion of Dr. Gabriel Barkay.  Yesterday, the story made it into the newspaper.  If you're recruiting for next year's tour, you can try enticing your students with the hope of such a discovery.  And you might take a closer look at that next potsherd before you toss it.

Lemelek, found by Sanchez
LMLK seal impression; photo by Steven Sanchez

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Record Number of Tourists in Israel

My impression that there were too many tourists in Israel last month was correct.  In fact, there has never been more tourists in the history of the nation.  Haaretz reports:

Nearly 300,000 tourists visited Israel in May, an all-time record, the Ministry of Tourism said.

The number of tourists was five percent higher than May of 2000, Israel's record year for tourism, and at the current pace, 2.8 million tourists are on track to visit by the end of the year, according to the ministry....

By 2012, the ministry's goal is to attract five million tourists, have 220,000 workers employed in the tourism industry and have tourism revenues of NIS 43 billion.

Goals are good, but it might be wise for the budgeters to keep in mind that 5 months after Israel's record-breaking May 2000, tourism nearly ground to a halt for about 3 years.

Mount of Olives from City of David, tb051908125dxo
Tour buses parked near Garden of Gethsemane

If the optimists are right, you're best to avoid the month of May in future years if possible.  You know it's going to be bad when there are no seats left for your group's flight in a year in advance (that's my situation for next May).  Here are some advantages to going in other months:

  • February: no tourists (but potentially lots of rain)
  • March: everything is green and wildflowers are everywhere
  • August: no tourists (but you'll know why as you hesitate to get off the air-conditioned bus)
  • October: possibly my favorite month of the year in Israel, with great temperatures and no rain
  • December: clearer air (less haze) means better panoramic views


Mysterious Stone Piles in Sea of Galilee

From Haaretz:

A marine scientist has discovered a series of mysterious stone patterns on the lake bed of drought-stricken Lake Kinneret.

The man-made piles of stone, which are now above water, jut out from the freshwater lake, and sit 30 meters from each other along a 3.5-kilometer stretch of the eastern shore, from the Kinneret College campus to Haon resort.

Gal Itzhaki of Kibbutz Afikim first noticed the stones while strolling along the lake's receded shoreline. He says the patterns are a "fascinating phenomenon" and are part of an "impressive building enterprise."

Though they have not yet been scientifically examined, there are several hypotheses as to what functions they fulfilled. One theory postulates that they were part of a boundary between the ancient lakeside towns of Hippos, also known as Sussita, and Gadara. Both towns were part of the Decapolis, a group of 10 towns that flourished in the eastern part of the Roman province of Palestina, and are mentioned in the New Testament. Others have hypothesized that the patterns were part of a string of watchtowers or small buildings, or were used to set up fishermen's nets.

Read the rest here.  The Hebrew version includes a photo.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Monday, June 16, 2008

DigMegiddo - Excavation Blog

Today is the first day of excavations at Megiddo, and a new blog intends to narrate the season from the perspective of archaeologist Eric Cline and 9 students.  Apparently 8 of the bloggers are female, which may say something about the attitude of guys towards archaeology or perhaps the recruiting skills of Cline.  You can check it out here:


Review: Israeli-Palestinian Cultural Heritage Agreement

The subject of the "Israeli-Palestinian Cultural Heritage Agreement," and similar subjects, has largely been ignored on this blog (for reasons of time).  Joe Lauer today sent out a handy summary of the issue, which I re-post here with his permission.  He also points out that there are a few additional links at Paleojudaica.  From Joe Lauer:

The recent Op-Ed by Meron Benvenisti, published in Ha'aretz, is another article or opinion piece dealing with the draft "Israeli-Palestinian Cultural Heritage Agreement" introduced by two archaeologists on April 8, 2008. The archaeologists are Ran Boytner, from UCLA, and Lynn Swartz Dodd, from USC.

As I was away from our PC from early April through mid-May, I could not share the news and opinions about the draft with those on the list, although many undoubtedly were made aware of them through their own reading or through postings on other lists.

For those who did not have access to these materials, the following mentions some of the items that appeared in early April and thereafter. I'm sure that many other article and op-eds have appeared regarding the proposal.

On April 8, 2008, UCLA issued a lengthy press release regarding the draft agreement ("Plan brokered by archaeologists would remove roadblock to Mideast peace"). This release, which has a picture of the two archaeologists, a map of the "Proposed Jerusalem Heritage Zone", and a link to an almost eight-minute UCLA video about the draft, evidently was the basis for many of the following articles on the subject. It may be read here.

The video may be also be viewed at
On April 14, 2008, ScienceDaily published the UCLA press release at It also has a link to the UCLA video.

On April 9, 2008, The Jerusalem Post published a brief news item on the subject ("Israeli, Palestinian archaeologists draft deal to preserve historic sites") by its staff. It may be read here or here.

On April 10, 2008, The Jerusalem Post (pg. 7) reprinted an article by Tom Tugend that first appeared on April 7 [sic], 2008 in The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles ("UCLA and USC archaeologists hope preserving the Middle East’s shared past can pave way to protecting"). It may be read here.

The Jerusalem Post article was entitled "US academics work to bridge archeological gap between Israelis, Palestinians" (and sub-captioned "Effort yields database of sites, artifacts that could be caught in legal limbo when final borders are decided").

Unfortunately, I do not have the URLs for The Jerusalem Post article or the Letter to the Editor that responded to it from Ken Spiro, April 14, 2008, pg. 14 ("Preposterous plan"), although I have them in print form. (The letter stated: "I read with complete disbelief about a plan to return to the Palestinian Authority archaeological artifacts excavated from Judea and Samaria as part of a final peace deal ("US academics ...," April 10). If these were Muslim or Arab artifacts I could at least understand, but they're talking about the Dead Sea Scrolls, antiquities from the First and Second Temple periods -- our very history, and the physical evidence of the Jewish people's connection to Israel! To even contemplate giving these to the PA -- which continues to deny that there ever was a Jewish presence in Israel or Jerusalem -- is a form of national suicide. As Israel Meir Lau, former chief rabbi of Israel and now chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, once said: 'A nation that does not value its past has no right to dream about its future.'")  

The Jewish Journal article was also circulated by Common Ground News Service, in a slightly edited form ("Archaeologists preserve hope"), at

The Jewish Journal article has a picture of the two academics, a link to the "Plan" of the "Shared Heritage Project", and a link to the UCLA video about the agreement. The Plan (including All documents (includes the cover letter, agreement, map) 5.32 MB; Agreement only 37.5 KB; High resolution Jerusalem Heritage Zone Map 2.11 MB; and Low resolution Jerusalem heritage zone map 932 KB) may also be linked to at

Ha'aretz also had its articles and opinion pieces on the subject:

On April 11, 2008, Ha'aretz published "A separate peace", by Meron Rapoport. It may be read at [English; Last update - 20:38 14/04/2008] [Hebrew; Last update - 15:22 12/04/08]

On April 18, 2008, Ha'aretz published "Partitioning the past", by Neil Asher Silberman. It may be read at [English; Last update - 07:41 18/04/2008]

Silberman's critical piece was followed by a response ("Sharing the past by dividing it") from Raphael Greenberg, who often speaks for the "Israeli-Palestinian Working Group on Archaeology," including in a campaign against the IAA excavations in the City of David sponsored by Elad. His article may be read at [English; Last update - 09:19 25/04/2008].

Friday, June 13, 2008

Earliest Church in Jordan

When a sensational but unsubstantiated archaeological discovery is reported, my inclination is to ignore it.  Since the goal to gain headlines and popularity (and sometimes to stir up tourism), the best way to thwart the guilty is to not publicize their claim.  As they know, all publicity is good publicity.

This doesn't work very well when mainstream news sources carry the story and one gets multiple requests about the accuracy of the report.  So I succumb.

The claim by Jordanian archaeologists that they have found the "earliest church" ever is the latest in an apparently on-going competition by archaeologists.  According to everything I've read about it, there is no basis for this claim whatsoever.  All evidence noted in the story runs counter to this claim.  Jerome Murphy-O'Connor says it well:

"Pushing the (date) back to the year 70 is very speculative. (The Jordanians) are desperate to create church sites (for tourism)," Father Murphy-O'Connor said. "I would be suspicious of this sort of hype."

Be suspicious of archaeologists, pseudo-archaeologists, and government departments of tourism.

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2,000-Year-Old Palm Tree Now 4 Feet Tall

National Geographic has an update with a couple of photos.  We mentioned this before here.

The oldest-sprouted seed in the world is a 2,000-year-old plant from Jerusalem, a new study confirms.

"Methuselah," a 4-foot-tall (1.2-meter-tall) ancestor of the modern date palm, is being grown at a protected laboratory in the Israeli capital.

In 2005 the young plant was coaxed out of a seed recovered in 1963 from Masada, a fortress in present-day Israel where Jewish zealots killed themselves to avoid capture by the Romans in A.D. 70....

Methuselah beats out the previous oldest-seed record holder, a lotus tree grown from a 1,300-year-old seed in 1995 by Jane Shen-Miller, a botanist at the University of California, Los Angeles, and colleagues.

The Jerusalem Post has a similar story.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

National Bible Museum to be built

This item came out a few weeks ago, but seems interesting enough to mention for those who might not have seen it elsewhere.

A Cornerstone [Grand Rapids, Michigan] history professor is working to create a first-of-its-kind Bible museum in Dallas, Texas, to house thousands of artifacts relating to the Bible and provide education.

Scott Carroll, professor of history, has been working with donors and others in academia to create the National Bible Museum to house the largest collection of artifacts about the Bible.

The goal of this museum is to become “the Smithsonian of biblical antiquities,” he said. "To get the same experience now someone would have to travel across the world.” 

For the past five years, Carroll, and historian, Jonathan Shipman, have been conceptualizing and raising money for the project.

The museum will be funded by one family “who wants the museum to be part of their legacy,” said Carroll.

Several major donors are now interested.

“We are in the final stages of acquiring a 900,000-square-foot facility that sits on 22 acres in downtown Dallas,” said Carroll.

The building will cost $300 million and is being paid for by a family that Carroll is working with, whose name he declined to disclose.

The museum will be comprised of 20 halls, each half the size of a football field that will contain artifacts and illustrations of the preservation of the Bible during a different period of history. 

One donor has offered to build exact replicas of as many ancient monuments as the museum wants, Carroll said.

The facility will be completed in about three years and will employ more than 200 staff and 15 faculty members with doctoral degrees.

Carroll said he wants the museum to be a place where the media can go to get an authoritative Christian answer if there are questions concerning the Bible or a new discovery.

Educational programs are being planned by the museum staff for public schools, universities and seminaries.

Carroll will serve as chief executive officer of the museum with duties to include “making sure the museum stays true to its vision, overseeing development of the collection, continuing research and speaking and resuming an excavation in Egypt.”


Monday, June 09, 2008

Turkey Familiarization Tour

This might be of interest to some readers:

Dear Professors, Colleagues, and Group Leaders,

We are currently taking sign ups for the MARCH 6-14, 2009 FAM. TRIP! And this year we are offering a SPECIAL optional Extension to Israel!

We are happy to have Dr. Mark Wilson accompany the Fam. Trip group next year, to share his vast knowledge of the country, its culture and history.

The March familiarization trip is for professors who are bringing or would like to bring a group to Turkey and want to come to experience some of the sights on their own before making a group tour. This trip has very limited space because of the special price.  The professor price of $1,195 is land, airfare & tax inclusive, based on double occupancy, with airfare from New York, JFK. The cost of a single room is $1,490 per person. Please ask for our spouse rate. Participants of this trip are responsible for their own transport to and from JFK. If you are interested in signing up for this trip please contact me for further details.

As usual, we will be organizing yet another memorable event, open to all Christians, at the ancient city of Ephesus

We would like to invite all of you to join our Famous Ephesus Meeting May 2009! , you can watch our introductory movie here.

Ephesus Meeting 2009 is a spiritual journey to the Biblical Sites and the Early Churches in Turkey. We have many wonderful University, College, Seminary and Church groups join this event. The event is an unforgettable experience of fascinating speakers, wonderful music, and a spiritual ambiance in an ancient land....

We are also excited about our NEW website. Please click here,, to view our special group programs of Cultural Exploration and Education, Art Programs, Archaeology Programs, Culinary Programs and Ancient Medicine Programs.

We hope to meet you AT OUR BOOTH in Providence, RI November 19-21, at ETS (booth #406), and in Boston, MA November 22-24, at SBL, (booth #117).  We will also be offering an additional meeting, with a slide show presentation, on The Seven Churches, and the Footsteps of St. Paul in Asia Minor.  ETS additional meeting, date and time will be announced and the SBL additional meeting is Sunday, November 23 from 4:00- 6:30 pm....

Ephesus Meeting
Tutku Tours


Archive of First Protestants in Jerusalem

Haaretz has an interesting article on the historical archive of Christ Church in the Old City of Jerusalem.  Some excerpts:

Tucked away in Jerusalem's Old City, between the entrance to the David Street market and the Armenian Quarter is one of Jerusalem's unsung treasures - a small room chock full of books, letters and documents in the historic Christ Church complex. Many of the documents are hand-written in the flowery style of the 19th century or earlier, written by Europeans, particularly the British, who lived and worked here. Coming to the documents' hopeful rescue is a recently initiated project that applies a combination of cutting edge technology and devotion to history to set them on their way toward digitalization as a means of preserving the stories they tell for future generations....

To explain what the library is all about, Arentsen's supervisor and Christ Church's new rector, Rev. David Pileggi pulls out one of the thousands of glass slides the library also owns. He holds it up, illuminating it in the afternoon Jerusalem sunlight streaming though the windows from the Christ Church courtyard. This one depicts nurses standing next to the beds of patients on a ward of the first hospital in Jerusalem, founded by the missionaries. "Life is complicated," Pileggi says, using the slide to segue into what is obviously a pet subject of his--dispelling the notion that nineteenth-century European Christians "were only interested in converting Jews to hasten Jesus' second coming."

Pileggi, an affable and talkative Floridian who has lived in Israel for 28 years broaches an issue that raises hackles in Jewish and Israeli society. He concedes the hospital's missionary purpose, but seems intent on getting across that it was "mixed with a deep sympathy for the Jews that came from reading the Bible. When you read the Bible and immerse yourself in its culture, as they did in places like England, Holland, and parts of Germany, you begin to identify with the main characters. That's certainly part of what these people were doing....

The precious documents found in the rare holdings closet put the Conrad Schick Library on a list of over 50 priceless collections whose preservation and digitalization is the goal of the Historical Libraries and Archives Survey, a project under the wing of the Institute of Historical Research at the University of London. Along with the Conrad Schick Library, the survey aims to preserve and digitize collections throughout Jerusalem - from the Afeefi family's 43 Arabic manuscripts on astronomy and other science kept in their Jerusalem home to the library in the ancient Syriac Orthodox St Mark's church with at least 300 manuscripts, the Al Aqsa Mosque repository with about 1,000 manuscripts and hundreds of ancient Korans, and the collection of the Admor of Karlin with more than 800 manuscripts, some centuries old. Dr. Merav Mack, 35, a Cambridge University-educated medieval scholar and a fellow at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, is a consultant on the project along with colleague Peter Jacobsen. "We think the project is important because the city's written treasures are of such enormous educational and cultural value to our global heritage."

HT: Joe Lauer

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

Egyptian Fortress on Road to Canaan Revealed

From National Geographic:

Archaeologists have uncovered more remnants from Tharu, the largest known fortified city in ancient Egypt, which sits near the modern-day border town of Rafah.

The fortress, also known as Tjaru or Tharo, covered about 31 acres (13 hectares), Egyptian authorities say. Its discovery near the Suez Canal was announced in July 2007.

Tharu helped guard the empire's eastern front in the Sinai Peninsula and served as a military cornerstone for Egypt's ancient leaders.

"It was built [more than] 3,000 years ago, and it was an important and strategic point," said Mohamed Abdel-Maqsoud, of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.

The fort's remains were found as part of a project that began in 1986 to explore the "Horus Way," an ancient military road that connected 11 fortresses linking Egypt and Palestine.

The path also served as an entry point for traders coming from Asia.

"This is the only way to enter Egypt by land coming from the east," said Fayza Haikal, a professor of archaeology and Egyptology at the American University in Cairo. "It was the way not only for armies but also commercial [expeditions]."

So far Egyptian authorities have discovered four fortresses along the Horus Way, which essentially formed the same line as Egypt's current eastern border (see map).

The story continues here.

HT: Joe Lauer


Video: Priestly Blessing

SourceFlix Productions has a 5-minute video on the Jewish Priestly Blessing.  The video includes footage of the blessing at the Western Wall, an interview with a priest, and an explanation by Gabriel Barkay about his discovery of the priestly blessing on a silver amulet in Jerusalem.  The video is interesting and instructive.